A day spent at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and we finally managed to register Hendrix to the state of New York. A notoriously hard process not without its share of problems and challenges, that said we were handed our new vehicle plates and were on our way. We packed up, and I took to the wheel for the first leg of our road trip, a breathtaking drive at dusk over the Williamsburg Bridge to Manhattan and through the Hudson Tunnel to New Jersey.
The birthplace of Bruce Springsteen and Tony Soprano’s stomping ground. New Jersey is nicknamed ‘The Garden State’, although this appears to be a cruel joke when you first enter, sprawling interstates intertwining together, creating a mass spaghetti junction, industry and factories as far as the eye can see, illuminated up by the glow of Jersey City. Apparently, once you manage to push past the first few miles the industry gives way to lush green surroundings, although we didn’t experience this ourselves. Hours of standstill, post-work traffic coupled with learning new road systems in a new vehicle took its toll and we settled on a motel just west of Newark.
New York State requires all newly registered cars to have a safety and emissions check within 10 days of registration. As we were keen to push on south we drove a few miles north over the state line to get Hendrix checked out. A single replaced tail light bulb and we were given the all clear as well as advice on a place for lunch from the garage owner, Rhodes North Tavern. Rhodes is a classic highway restaurant, decked out wood exterior with sporting memorabilia plastered to the walls, serving up American cuisine to a mixed crowd of locals and passing traffic. We opted for the “Rhodes Famous” Roast Pork Hero on the advice of our friendly waitress, and we weren’t sorry. A mountain of thinly shaved, super tender pork, hot and moist from all the herb rich jus, served on a crusty baguette with pepper jack cheese. The hero came with chips, coleslaw and a giant pickled gherkin, which provided acidity to cut through the richness of the pork, as well as a ramekin of hot pork gravy jus in which to dunk our hero. I didn’t actually think a pork sandwich could taste this good, but was happy to be proven wrong on this occasion. The table opposite us opted for pulled pork sandwiches, which allowed us to overhear the waitress explaining that Rhodes makes its own in-house BBQ sauce specially for the sandwich. Famous roast pork and in-house made BBQ sauce… what more could you want from a roadside restaurant?
We headed south through New Jersey to the small town of Runnemede, a few miles outside of Philadelphia. Philadelphia is a charming city steeped with heritage, one of the nation’s capitals during the Revolutionary War and served as temporary U.S. capital while Washington D.C. was under construction. The Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence here in 1776 and the United States Constitution in 1787. No trip to Philadelphia is complete without paying homage to Stallone’s 1976 oscar winner, Rocky. After a morning walking around the Centre City and a quick dash up the ‘Rocky Steps’ leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, we had built up a suitable appetite to take on the famous Philly Cheesesteak. The location, Pat’s King of Steaks, widely accepted as the originator of the cheesesteak in the 1930s and has been visited by all walks of life, including President Obama. The concept is simple, thinly sliced ribeye steak is cooked on a flat top griddle with sliced white onion, a crusty baguette is filled with the caramelised steak and onions before being topped off with you choice of cheese (Cheez Wiz, American or Provolone), Wiz is king at Pat’s although we went for Provolone for a bitter-sweet contrast to the caramelised meat. Hot sauce and pickled jalapeño peppers are on offer, be warned those these babies are hot!
Washington, District of Columbia
Neither a city nor a state, the U.S. capital, Washington D.C. is a federal district and the only jurisdiction in the world. D.C. residents are denied representation in their national legislature, despite paying taxes, serving in the military etc. Hence the slogan on all D.C. car plates reading, “Taxation without Representation”. After driving the 150 miles from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. we checked in to a motel and headed to Old Town Alexandria, a suburb six miles south of downtown Washington. Old Town, like Philadelphia, has a historic feel. Small streets lined with 17th century housing, boutique stores and a quaint harbour.
Next morning with the sun beaming we headed straight to D.C. city centre, starting at the Washington Monument (a towering 555 foot obelisk built to commemorate the first American President, General George Washington) then to The White House, before a short walk to the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King, Jr. famously gave his “I Have a Dream” public speech, a defining moment of the American Civil Rights Movement. We then strolled to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, Thomas Jefferson Memorial and finally the U.S. Capitol Building.
Instead of staying in Washington D.C. for another night we decided to push south into Virginia, nicknamed the “Mother of Presidents”, after the eight U.S. Presidents born there. Settling at the city of Roanoke, which lies within the Blue Ridge Mountains. We were able to take advantage of this National Park location and burnt off some excess calories with a 10 mile trek (our original intention being a gentle 2 mile walk through the forest, which failed due to desperately poor navigational skills). Thanks again to George Motz’s Hamburger America we located Texas Tavern in downtown Roanoke, a tiny 10 seat restaurant built in 1930.
Texas Tavern is open all night, as proclaimed on the front window, and a regular hamburger will set you back a mere $1.30 in pocket change. I opted for a bowl of chili, so popular that it can be order on take-out by the gallon, and a Cheesy Western, a glorious combination of thin beef patty, cheese, pickle, onion, relish and fried egg, all cushioned between a soft white bun. Nothing has changed at the Texas Tavern since the day it opened, not the burger recipe, nor the original fixtures, nothing… and for good reason.
From Roanoke we headed further south along the Blue Ridge Parkway, a beautiful 469 mile drive through the Appalachian Mountains into North Carolina and the city of Winston-Salem, famed for its pitt barbecue. I had read about a number of restaurants specialising in western North Carolina barbecue (apparently barbecue differs greatly between the east and west in the state of North Carolina), and decided to pay a visit to Hill’s Lexington Barbecue, a family run restaurant since 1951.
We went for the chopped plate (chunky slow smoked pork shoulder), pork ribs (so tender the meat completely gave way like butter), and sides consisting of smokey baked beans, vinegary ‘slaw, mustard greens, potato cakes and my personal favourite for soaking up the thin and peppery barbecue sauce, a basket of hush puppies (deep-fried croquettes of cornmeal batter). Lunch slipped down well with sweet ice-tea, and was topped off with Hill’s signature banana pudding, a muddle of caramelised banana, custard soaked lady fingers and crunchy meringue. We rolled out of the building with full bellies feeling like the top hat wearing, porky pig on the sign outside Hill’s.
After Hill’s we headed west, deeper into North Carolina where the Blue Ridge Parkway ends at the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. The drive took us through Cherokee, a town continuing the heritage of the Cherokee Indians where road signs remain labeled in English and Cherokee. Push further west still and you come to the tiny summertime town of Bryson City, nestled in the Great Smokey Mountains beside the Tuckasagee River. Upon driving into Bryson City we passed Na-Ber’s Drive-In, an original 1950’s drive-in that looks permanently closed on first inspection. Drive to a bay outside Na-Ber’s, browse the back-lit menu, push the button and place your order via the speaker. A brief wait and your meal is brought out to you on a tray that clips to your car’s window. I’d heard of this style of American drive-in but thought it had become a part of cultural history, but not at Na-Ber’s. Lunch consisted of American classics, a hotdog “all the way” (topped with chili, cheese and coleslaw), super crisp yet still succulent fried chicken, fries and onion rings. We completed this all American experience with super thick, super creamy, super cold shakes (cherry for me, strawberry for Lu). The shake was a meal in itself but we were ravenous after the morning drive and polished off our lunch at this place of American 1950’s nostalgia.
After lunch we drove further into the Great Smokey Mountains in search of the Road To Nowhere, a place we had read about on Roadside America, our online guide to offbeat attractions. Lakeview Drive (better known as the Road To Nowhere) being a broken promise by the U.S. Government in 1943, originally intended to connect Bryson City to its 30 mile west neighbour city Fontana through the Great Smokey Mountains. Construction of the road halted six miles into the National Park due to environmental issues. We drove through Bryson City and continued on the only main road, after a few miles we passed a faded sign welcoming travellers to the Road To Nowhere, the road twists up into the Great Smokey Mountains, yielding some fantastic views of the valley and river below. This stretch of road is beautiful, yet eerily quiet and lonely. We drove on silently with the tingle of goosebumps down our spines. After seven to eight miles you reach a barricade and in the distance is the pitch black opening to a tunnel through the mountains. We walked up to the tunnel, and armed with a flash light sheepishly wandered through for around a quarter-mile until we reached the opening at the other side of the mountains, where the road stops and overgrown forest landscape sits.
With the evening twilight setting in we stocked up on essential driving snacks (current snacks of choice being Cheetos and Peanut M&M’s) and began the hundred mile drive, twisting up and over the Great Smokey Mountains from North Carolina to Knoxville, Tennessee. Our sixth state in just as many days.